Israel’s greatest enemy is now himself

Israel faces many external challenges. However, it is often an internal weakness that dooms a country, not a belligerent neighbor. This is exactly what is happening in Israel today.

The new government in Israel, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was sworn in on Thursday. This government is considered the most right-wing in the history of Israel and is also the first whose members are predominantly religious. The right-wing nature of the government, including plans by some members to annex the West Bank, has raised concerns among many around the world. However, the real danger this government poses to Israel’s future may be its religious makeup. The influence of religious parties within the government, particularly the ultra-Orthodox and religious Zionist parties, has raised concerns about the country’s long-term viability as a Jewish and democratic state.

Israel's new government
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL – DECEMBER 29: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir react after being sworn in at Israel’s Parliament during a new government to be held at Israel’s Parliament on December 29, 2022 in Jerusalem, Israel was sworn in. Conservative Benjamin Netanyahu and a bloc of nationalist and religious parties won a clear election victory last month and will be sworn into government in the Knesset today. This completes Netenyahu’s political comeback with a record-breaking sixth term.
Amir Levy/Getty Images

As Israel’s new government convened in recent weeks, it became increasingly clear that the traditional political divide between right and left is no longer relevant; Instead, the new divide seems to be the one separating the liberal perspective from an extremely religious one.

This happened in part because a majority of the religious members of the Knesset in the new government in Israel are drawn from the Likud party’s coalition partners rather than from the Likud party itself.

These partners can be divided into two groups: the Ultra-Orthodox and the Religious Zionists. The ultra-Orthodox believe that Torah study is the most important profession and seek to maintain their separate societies while demanding financial support from larger Israeli society. The religious Zionists, on the other hand, have a utopian vision for Israel as a religious nation ruling over a large territory from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. Both groups follow the directives of their rabbis, who have a significant impact on their communities, especially among the ultra-Orthodox.

The goals of the ultra-Orthodox and religious Zionist parties endanger the long-term viability of the State of Israel, both as a Jewish and democratic state, and undermine the economic foundations that have made the country prosperous. The ultra-Orthodox seek to protect their communities from outside interference and promote Torah study as equivalent to military service, while the rest of the country is expected to shoulder the burden of supporting the Israel Defense Forces.

According to the new coalition agreement, the ultra-Orthodox will receive a substantial sum of money and a promise that they can avoid integration into Israeli society.

Religious Zionists, for their part, serve in the army. Her movement’s dream is to remake the rest of the country in her image. Religious Zionists are ultra-nationalists who believe that God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people and no one has the right to give away what God gave.

Though not as isolated as the ultra-Orthodox, religious Zionists hold to a fundamentalist form of Judaism. Many are homophobic and believe in limited opportunities for women. On the instructions of their rabbis, they reject the full integration of women into the army.

Both the ultra-Orthodox and the religious Zionist groups believe that they are following the Word of God and therefore their actions must be correct. As a result, both groups are adamant in their core beliefs.

While they currently dominate the government, they are still a minority across the country. Many Israelis wonder how much of their agenda will actually be achieved and whether Israel’s silent majority will rebel and push back enough to prevent it.

The lesson from Israel’s new government is that Israel’s greatest enemy now sits within, the threat posed by fundamentalists to the liberal democracy that has been a part of this country since its inception.

One can only hope that the Israeli people will soon rebel against fanatic control.

Marc Schulman is a multimedia historian.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own. Israel’s greatest enemy is now himself

Rick Schindler

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